Published Thursday, September 9, 2021
TORONTO — Federal party leaders aren’t listening enough to the concerns of disabled Canadians, advocates say. They say key priorities missing from campaign pledges include equitable emergency relief, stronger housing, and workplace policies that address all types of disabilities.
Sarah Jama, co-founder of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario, said this lack of scope boils down to a “lack of understanding of what systemic ableism looks like.”
“Nothing is prioritized by the government unless there’s people campaigning behind it,” she told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.
She said this could be partially addressed by having more disabled candidates running for office or being key parts of campaign decision-making. Jama said people in power don’t always make appreciate just how many Canadians have some form of a disability.
Disabled people make up approximately 22 per cent of Canada’s entire population. And between 62 and 75 per cent of people with disabilities have disabilities which aren’t immediately apparent, such as deafness, blindness or autism.
One of the biggest issues that Jama says hasn’t received enough attention during this campaign is overhauling care for vulnerable people who currently receive care at home or live in long-term care homes.
Jama said she likes the NDP’s platform commitments to end the private long-term care home system, but wants to see the next government go even beyond that.
“We need to reimagine what long-term care looks like in Canada,” she said. She said she wishes party leaders put forth policies that give vulnerable people more affordable options to receive care at home, keeping them out of long-term care facilities.
Jama also said “it’s also embarrassing” that Canada doesn’t yet have universal pharmacare, and that she wishes all parties agreed that it was essential, especially for people with disabilities.
Both the NDP and the Greens have advocated for a national pharmacare program that would provide prescription drug coverage for all Canadians and permanent residents. And while the Liberals have spent the past few years saying they’re moving forward on pharmacare, their platform only notes existing progress on the file, including the signing of the first provincial-territorial agreement to accelerate its implementation. The Conservatives haven’t endorsed a national pharmacare plan but, in their platform, they promise to negotiate with the pharmaceutical industry to reduce drug prices.
Jama also called for more concrete provisions for disabled people during natural disasters, to ensure they’re prioritized during evacuations.
Many disability advocates have also been critical of recent expansion of access to medical assistance in dying (MAID). They argue that instead of making it easier for disabled people to die, the government should be working to make workplaces and housing more functional for them.
Jama says she supports the parts of the Conservative platform around strengthening protections for disabled people when it comes to MAID, including reinstating the 10-day waiting period, to ensure decisions aren’t made at people’s lowest point. No other major party references further adjustments to MAID in its platform.
ACCESIBILITY TO HOUSING, WORKPLACES TOO MUCH AN ‘AFTERTHOUGHT’
Thea Kurdi, vice president of DesignABLE Environments INC, told CTV’s Your Morning that the situation for disabled people is “much worse than non-disabled people suspect.”
She said accessibility in housing or workplace policies is too often treated as an “afterthought,” instead of a priority aligning with Canada’s commitments to the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Kurdi said that too often, although wheelchair access is prioritized, spaces aren’t also made to be truly accessible to deaf, blind or autistic people. Making spaces accessible for visually-impaired people for example, can mean ensuring braille materials or screen-reading software are available; and, for people with hearing concerns, ensuring there are clear fonts in materials and phone or video relay services.
Jama said any parties’ affordable housing policies must address accessibility concerns but only the Greens and NDP have explicitly connected the two.
The Greens are calling for housing developments receiving federal funding to ensure that 30 per cent of all units are affordable and/or available to people with disabilities. The NDP has advocated for accessibility in housing as well.
The Liberals’ platform says only that affordable housing should keep people with disabilities in mind, while the Conservatives haven’t explicitly linked housing and accessibility in their platform.
ACCESSIBLE CANADA ACT STILL TOO WEAK: ADVOCATE
David Lepofsky, the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said people with disabilities were left out of decision-making throughout the pandemic, including when it came to recovery programs and vaccine prioritization.
“We’ve disproportionately suffered the consequences of the pandemic, and disproportionately been left out of the proper planning for urgent needs during the pandemic,” he told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday. He cited the federal government’s one-time payment took months to get to recipients.
Lepofsky also said that the Accessible Canada Act, which passed two years ago, is still far too weak because it doesn’t include enforceable regulations nor adequate compensation for victims of discrimination.
“We’ve written all the parties to ask them if they will strengthen and offered 12 ways to make things better,” said Lepofsky. Only the NDP responded and pledged to make many of the commitments, he said.
Lepofsky said Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau – who promised ambitious implementation of the act – and his government have been “dragging their feet.”
As for Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole, he hasn’t pledged to make any of the commitments put forth by Lepofsky’s advocacy group —
despite the fact that during parliamentary debates in 2018, his party said it would strengthen the Accessible Canada Act, if the Liberals didn’t.
“We’re not partisan. We want all of the party leaders to make those commitments,” he said.